Florida Supremes: Courts need more judges, but not in Highlands County
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Foreclosures continue to clog Florida courtrooms, and judges are taking on work their former staffs used to do. That's why the Supreme Court asked last week for 63 new judges and a new appeals court judge.
Published: December 27, 2012
Published: December 27, 2012
Not in Highlands County, though.
"We are running pretty smooth," said Clerk of Courts Bob Germaine in Sebring.
The Supreme Court said the residential mortgage foreclosure crisis "continues to impede disposition times and rates in our circuit civil divisions."
That hasn't been a problem in Highlands, where there is no backlog.
"Judge (David) Langford handles the foreclosure block and it works good," Germaine said.
It's the same in Circuit 10, said Court Administrator Nick Sudzina in Bartow.
"We didn't ask this year. I don't think the Supreme Court would have certified the need if we had," he said.
Sudzina isn't certain why Circuit 10 — comprised of Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties — isn't overloaded when other courts are. It's a combination of a lower crime rate, population and other factors.
The Supreme Court noted that Florida's court clog is not as bad as it could be because the state crime rate also is down and a drop in juvenile delinquency filings is expected with changes being made by state juvenile justice officials.
The court also noted that lawmakers provided extra money last year that allowed the courts to bring in more judges, and that they're getting cash from a national mortgage settlement agreement, which is easing the situation.
Germaine and Sudzina said the need for clerks is not acute.
"The only time we need additional clerks is when we get new judges," Germaine said.
Highlands and Hardee have only one felony division, Sudzina said.
"Anytime we create an additional felony division, and we have six here in Polk County, we need additional clerks and prosecutors and public defenders," he said.
It's not like there's plenty of money to go around, the supreme court acknowledged: "We observe that state revenues, while gradually improving, continue to lag, thereby creating competition between funding new judgeships and attending to other critical state needs."
But a bigger problem may be that recent cuts in court staff for budget reasons have meant more work for judges that used to be done by those staffers.
"Several of the chief judges cited problems of fewer staff to assist with case processing matters…." the court said. "Our judges continue to absorb the work previously performed by case managers, law clerks, magistrates and other supplemental support staff lost in the budget reductions of recent years."
After examining case data and judicial workload and looking at a three-year average need, the court officially certified the need for 16 new circuit judges and 47 county court judges. The court also said the Second District Court of Appeal needs one more judge, although the DCA asked for two.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this story firstname.lastname@example.org (863) 386-5828